*** (out of 5)
April 15, 2011
Jesse Eisenberg as BLU
Anne Hathaway as JEWEL
George Lopez as RAFAEL
Leslie Man as LINDA
Jemaine Clement as NIGEL
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
So far, I’ve been mighty impressed with 2011 as a movie year, and we’re not even in the summer blockbuster season. Last year left a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering why Hollywood had gotten lost in a maelstrom of remakes, sequels and high concept adaptations. However, 2011 has really turned that tide… at least for the first third of the year.
Say what you want to about some of the films that have opened this year, but you cannot deny the wealth of original stories and concepts. Even films that are indeed adaptations or sequels, like “The Adjustment Bureau” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” they have a certain uniqueness about them that isn’t just forcing a story continuation or rehashing and old plot.
This trend continues with Fox’s latest 3D CGI feature film, “Rio.” Like the “Ice Age” features and “Robots,” this movie is made by Blu Sky Studios, and it offers a new story. It may not be the freshest story, and it has plenty of concepts we’ve seen elsewhere, but it’s not a fairy tale brought to life (or spoofed).
The story follows a blue macaw named Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) who has lived his whole life in Minnesota with his owner Linda (Leslie Mann). However, when Linda receives a visit from a South American ornithologist, she learns that Blu is one of the last of his kind. They decide to travel to Rio de Janeiro so he can mate with the last female of the species. However, exotic bird smugglers see the rare macaws and try to kidnap them for profit.
“Rio” continually seesaws from gorgeous animated brilliance to tired and cliche jokes. The animation looks great, though we’ve come to expect this sort of things after 15 years of full-CGI features. On the plus side, there’s several great sequences that include toe-tapping musical numbers. In particular, the opening sequence features a bird dance that is impossible to top for the remaining 86 minutes of screen time. However, the evil cockatoo Nigel gets his own solo, which is quite charming and clever albeit not quite in sync with the rest of the movie.
The tropical setting with the abundance of colorful birds reminds me of the old ink-and-paint promotional films Walt Disney did with Latin America in the 40s. It is this first bird dance sequence that reminds me of the still catchy “Three Caballeros” number with Donald Duck, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles.
On the down side, “Rio” has some incredibly flat moments. There are huge stretches in the plot where the characters seem aimless, and their mission is without purpose. A typically mundane subplot about how Blu never learned to fly offers a chance for some neat montages but is otherwise dull.
Additionally, the voice cast is nothing special. I’ve about had my fill of Jesse Eisenberg, who can play a one-note character well but rarely stretches out of that. Blu comes off as a slightly less abrasive version of Mark Zuckerberg from “The Social Network,” stammering like a wannabe Woody Allen. Anne Hathaway, who is normally the epitome of charming, just phones in her parts. It seems that the only people really throwing down for this film were George Lopez as the Yoda-esque toucan Rafael and (God forbid) Tracy Morgan as a Tracy Morgan-esque bulldog.
Still, like many animated films, “Rio” serves its purpose. It utilizes the 3D effects to take the audience on a journey. It runs about 90 minutes, so it doesn’t really overstay its welcome. And, for all the foibles in the plot, it holds together better than current box office champ “Hop” does.